By KELLY MACNAMARA & HLA-HLA HTAY | AFP
NAY PYI TAW — A close aide to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was sworn in as Myanmar’s president on Wednesday morning, a role that will see him act as a proxy for the National League for Democracy leader and carry the hopes of a nation emerging from military rule.
U Htin Kyaw takes power from former general U Thein Sein, who has helmed far-reaching reforms since 2011.
Suu Kyi, 70, is barred from becoming president by the junta-scripted constitution but has declared that she will steer the government anyway, taking on a clutch of cabinet positions including that of foreign minister.
The handover at the junta-built parliament in the capital Nay Pyi Taw marks the final act of a prolonged transition since Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party swept the November elections.
The NLD won 80 percent of parliamentary seats, handing them a massive public mandate to rule after generations of army domination.
Wearing a collarless shirt in the NLD’s peach-coloured parliamentary colours, the bespectacled Htin Kyaw pledged to be “faithful to the people of the republic of the union of Myanmar”.
Expectations for an NLD-dominated government run high, but Myanmar’s new rulers face a steep task.
Civil wars continue to rage in ethnic minority borderlands, poverty is widespread and the military continues to hold huge political and economic powers.
“The country is ready and hungry for change,” political analyst Khin Zaw Win told AFP.
He said the party would be under pressure to quickly build on the reforms of the outgoing quasi-civilian government and not try to “start from scratch”.
Myanmar has witnessed a staggering political change shepherded by outgoing President Thein Sein, a former senior junta general.
Investors and tourists have begun to pile in as many of the junta’s worst repressions have eased, promising a better future to a public who now have access to mobile phones, cheaper cars and other coveted consumer goods.
A key challenge for Suu Kyi’s administration will be maintaining smooth relations with a military that locked her and many of her colleagues up for years.
The charter ring fences a quarter of parliamentary seats to unelected soldiers and gives the army chief control over the Home Affairs, Border and Defence ministries — and with it sweeping powers over the civil service.
The NLD has also hit stumbling blocks even before taking office.
There are concerns over the cabinet line up in which Suu Kyi is the only woman and the majority of members are in their 60s or older, despite representing one the region’s youngest populations.
Suu Kyi is taking four ministerial posts — president’s office, energy, education and foreign affairs.
The minister widely expected to take the role of finance chief was also swept into a row last week when it was spotted that his officially released CV contained a fake PhD. He said he had been the victim of a scam.